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Duke Nukem Forever Review

Review; Jun. 16, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Edward Kaczynski
Gearbox and 3D Realms Blow it Out Their Asses

I’m going to say this right off the bat: This is not going to be a fair review. It can’t be.

No game that’s had 14 years of build up time is going to be a candidate for a “fair” review. It’s not possible. 

The good reviews are going to be magnified by a thousand, with people proclaiming “Game of the Year” and “Well worth the wait!” Which it won’t be because no sequel in the history of anything (no matter how good the original was) is worth waiting more than 14 years -- the Star Wars prequel trilogy proved this. This will be the realm of super fanboys and the nostalgia geeks who believe that Duke Nukem can do no wrong.

Duke Nukem Forever Screenshots
Click the image to view game screenshots

On the other hand, the bad reviews will be magnified by a million, with the consensus being, “Gearbox Studios took a 14-year-old shit in a brown paper bag and is trying to tell me it’s lunch.” Because nothing that’s taken 14 years to finish is going to be anything better than garbage. Again, the Star Wars prequels proved this. 

The vast majority of reviews, however, will fall somewhere between these two extremes, and the fact is that the teenaged child of Duke Nukem 3D will affect all of them because of its age. And, yes, there will be critics out there who will say “its 14 year development will play no part in my review,” but the fact is that those writers are lying to you. They may not realize it, but they can’t ignore how long it took to develop.

So where do I fall?


It’s a first-person shooter. Another first-person shooter. There’s nothing new about it -- nothing innovative or exciting. It’s just another game in the Duke Nukem franchise that has (somehow) earned the distinction of being called a “sequel” and not a “spin-off.” This distinction is made (I think?) in the fact that this game is a first-person shooter and not a third­-person shooter or side-scroller.

To be fair, I guess I got what I was expecting. There’s aliens, scantily clad women, crazy guns, scantily clad women, toilet jokes, scantily clad women, pop culture references, scantily clad women, misogynistic humor, substance abuse, dick and fart jokes and scantily clad women. Did I mention some of the women wear nothing in lieu of clothing?

But getting what I expected doesn’t really make the game any better.

Let me explain.

Duke Nukem Forever isn’t bad. It’s playable, and at times, it’s kinda enjoyable. But, by and large, it feels like a time and cash sink. The sound is all right; graphically it’s only slightly dated; the accompanying music is kind of bad ass -- but other than that, it's lacking. I’m reviewing the PC version, which (I’ve heard) is leaps and bounds more polished than the console ports, but all the polish in the world isn’t going to help it.

So what did Duke Nukem Forever do right?

Well, the single unique piece of game design that DNF has going for it is the titular character -- Duke Nukem. Duke is (rightly) considered by many to be the manliest action hero of the 20th century. This is not an accident -- this is because he’s a testosterone fueled amalgam of all other manly action heroes. This is a testament to 3D Realms’ ability to deliver on satire, which, given its track record, appears to be the only thing you can count on 3D Realms to deliver reliably.

But despite the fact that Duke Nukem is nothing more than a giant, satirical walking hard-on, this two-dimensionality is what made him endearing. This is why we liked him. He fought aliens, blew shit up, spouted bad ass one-liners, literally tore off the head and shit down the neck of the bad guys, and (in the end) always got the babes. There was no moral imperative, no overwhelming sense of doom, and despite the fact that aliens had invaded, mutated our police and stolen our women, there was never any doubt that Duke would make everything right. He’s larger than life, but honestly, even that’s not a big enough description for him.

Duke Nukem Forever Screenshots

This is echoed in DNF, but Duke somehow feels ... toned down? Maybe that’s age talking, but Duke feels less like a character and more like a point of view now. Yeah, every once in a while he’ll say something clever, but most of the time, it feels like Duke is the silent protagonist. Gordon Freeman did that, and it worked. Duke Nukem is not a quantum physicist, however. He’s a professional bad ass, and we want to hear him talk.

There are worse things that 3D Realms and Gearbox could have done, though. Like adding a degree of “realism” to DNF.

Imagine this: Duke Nukem lives in a parallel universe where he doesn’t age (or rather, it doesn’t matter), and being a professional bad ass has netted him billions of dollars, allowing him to found and franchise a chain of fast-food restaurants, strip clubs, television network, and a 5-star hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, as well as his own patent on digital media (“Dukeray”) and a pornographic film production and distribution company. He’s also a best-selling author (Why I’m So Great by Duke Nukem), can bench press more than 600 pounds, lives in a land where every woman is a solid 10 and is massively attracted to him, and has direct lines to the president of the United States and the joint chiefs of staff from within a private Duke Cave located through a secret entrance underneath his throne in his museum dedicated to himself after he single-handedly fought off an alien invasion and returned the female half of the population to earth, allowing the human race to continue, thus being the only person (fictional or otherwise) to literally be a “savior of humanity.” 

And at any given time in Duke Nukem Forever, no matter their size, he can only carry two guns.

This was Gearbox Studio’s singular attempt to add “realism” to the Duke Nukem franchise. This was the line in the sand that they drew and said, “No, crossing this would be too extreme and too silly to be believable.”

You know who can carry more than two guns at a time? Me. With a holster, I can carry a pistol, and with straps, I can carry a rifle or shotgun on each shoulder. Will I be comfortable? No. In the event of an alien invasion, am I gonna care about comfort? Probably not.

It’s baffling. Moreover, with the amount of bullets flying through the air, it’s annoying because you’ll be picking weapons up off the ground every five minutes in an attempt to find one you haven’t previously emptied. But not to worry because there are caches of ammo and explosives that never run out in areas where you’re going to really need them. Because that’s realism.

Beyond that, the story is weak, the AI is either frustratingly simple or frustratingly difficult with nothing in between, and the game play is consistently interrupted by mini-games, which were endearing when they were optional in Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior, but have managed to evolve into exhausting now that they’re mandatory in Duke Nukem Forever. Enemy encounters feel more like a test of trial-and-error rather than skill, with the more difficult ones requiring you to die four or five times before you get the exact timing down.

The bottom line: It was ambitious for Gearbox Studios to try and pick up the slack of 3D Realms vaporware, and while I’m sure it will pan out of them financially, the sheer lack of effort and polish on DNF has put serious doubts in my mind as to whether or not I’m going to be picking up Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded -- Gearbox’s modern re-release of the classic Duke Nukem 3D

Of course, with no release date in sight, I might be well into my 40s by the time it comes out.



GizmoDuck - Jul. 2, 2011 at 7:20:17am

The graphics in this game look like Doom 3 on the origional xbox ...


RGoodman4483 - Jun. 17, 2011 at 3:52:18pm

I think I'll wait for it to go down in price.


JCXanirus - Jun. 17, 2011 at 3:28:29pm

Bah, I was looking forward to playing a game my PC would actually run flawlessly, cause it hasn't in a while. This would of been it, but judging by the reviews, my enjoyment would be the only thing not flawless.

darkstar2380 - Jun. 17, 2011 at 11:58:34am I said, it's not a failure, it's just not good. A 6.5 is a D.


rfludwick - Jun. 17, 2011 at 8:44:42am

To be honest Ed, I thought your score would be even below the average on GameRankings...

darkstar2380 - Jun. 17, 2011 at 2:11:09am

PC gamer gave it an 80.


JCXanirus - Jun. 16, 2011 at 11:10:58pm

You know whats ironic? This is the highest score I've ever seen this game receive.

Review Score


Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

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